Listen to our latest conversation for the The Kathleen Project – collecting stories about Manchester’s industrial past, in the words of those who lived it.
In our fourth conversation for this project, we chatted with Vina, who started work in the textile industry aged 15, in 1962.
Vina made her first garments at school, hand-sewing a sailor-collared blouse in purple gingham and a nightdress in green fabric with ribbon. In 1962, she left school aged 15, with no qualifications, so was unable to go to college to pursue dress design as she wanted; instead she started working as a machinist sewing binding onto aprons and bibs at Dresiwear in Old Trafford.
After a couple of months, and with encouragement from her school friend Lynne, Vina moved to work with her at Walter Swinn and Sons (‘Swinns’) on Charles Street in Manchester. Primarily making tartan kilts, Swinns was a large operation, employing 20-30 machinists, with separate cutting, pressing and finishing departments. In her own time, Vina would sew clothes for herself, her younger sister and her mother, who, at 4’9”, found it difficult to find nice dresses to go dancing in.
At age 20, Vina got married – making her own bridesmaids dresses out of red velvet – and moved with her husband to Newton Heath. Here she took a job at Mosco and Son, making rainwear for Marks and Spencer. A similar sized business to Swinns, Mosco and Son were more industrial in nature, with machinists arranged around a conveyor belt which would transport unsewn as well as completed work onto the next stage of the manufacturing process.
As a married woman, she didn’t have to pay keep, so wages were spent on clothes: she would make blouses, maxis, midis and hot pants, working to a schedule of buying fabric at the market on Tuesday, cutting the pattern on Wednesday, sewing the garment on Thursday and wearing it out clubbing on Friday.
Vina left Mosco and sons after 5 years, having divorced her husband, and moved to Old Trafford to start afresh with her second husband. She had her son, and while he was still small, Vina took on ‘outdoor’ work sewing zips into pencil cases using her domestic sewing machine at home.
Whilst outdoor work brought in some money, it wasn’t sustainable and after 10 years in the industry, Vina looked elsewhere to earn a living, first becoming a home help and then an auxiliary nurse and reflexologist. She continued to sew however, making clothes for her son and then her grandchildren as well as mending, altering, patchworking and quilting.
The Kathleen Project, episode 5: In Conversation with Vina
Thanks so much to Vina for sharing her story with us! If you know anyone who worked in Greater Manchester’s textile industry and would like to take part in the project, please do ask them to contact us.
The Kathleen Project is led by Stitched Up and supported by Historic England.